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barry-lancet-4-thumbBarry Lancet is the author of the Jim Brodie series of thrillers, featuring the Tokyo-based PI and antiques dealer. Lancet hit the ground running with the first novel in the series, Japantown, which was nominated for a Barry Award and selected as the Best Debut of the Year by Suspense Magazine in 2013. It was highly praised by critics. Booklist called it a “solid mystery with a memorable protagonist, the book captures our interest from the first page,” while the New York Times dubbed it a “sophisticated international thriller.” Japantown was also optioned for television by J. J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, in association with Warner Bros.

The eagerly awaited sequel, Tokyo Kill, just released, takes readers into the realms of the Triads, Chinese spies, and Japanese kendo warriors, in a “first-rate mystery,” according to Booklist. Similarly, Kirkus Reviews felt that this series is “highly distinctive.”

Lancet may have been a first time novelist with Japantown, but he was not new to publishing or to Japan, having lived in Tokyo for twenty-five years and working for one of Japan’s premier publishing houses, developing books on Japanese culture from history to fiction, and from Japanese cuisine to martial arts.

Barry, it’s a real pleasure to have you on Scene of the Crime. Maybe japantown-thumbwe could start out by talking about your connection to Tokyo and Japan. How did you come to live there?

The first time I visited Japan was on pure whim. I’d planned on going to London and Paris, but when some new Japanese acquaintances suggested I come visit them in Tokyo, I said as a joke that maybe I’d “go the long way around from California to Europe.”

Several years on that is exactly what I did. Then I returned to the States to finish college and find a job, but Japan lingered in my dreams. I couldn’t shake it. Eventually, the pull was too strong, so five years later I headed back across the Pacific, with the idea of continuing to pursue publishing and writing in Tokyo. Which is what I did.

What things about Japan make it unique and a good physical setting in your books?

Tokyo is this intriguing mix of a modern megacity and exotic splashes of traditional culture. So are many other places throughout the country, but in different combinations. Layer onto that specific Japanese customs, history, legendary manners, cleanliness, the newer “cool” pop culture, and so many more of the country’s unique qualities and there is a great and endlessly fascinating pool of settings from which to draw.

Did you consciously set out to use your location as a “character” in your books, or did this grow naturally out of the initial story?

I set out to use Japan as a backdrop because I’d lived there for twenty-five years, and I’ve learned and seen so much. I am still based there. The idea of choosing a vivid location—whether in America or elsewhere overseas—was driven home to me in a memorable conversation I had with a rabid mystery/thriller fan, who also happened to be a bookstore owner.

He had this theory that a great thriller or mystery has four things: top-notch character, plot, dialogue, and sense of place. Great books present all four well, very good ones at least three, and passable at least two. Plenty of twos and even ones get published, but the books that break away from the pack are the threes and fours. Particularly the fours.

His “four” is the target I strive to hit.

tokyo-kill-thumbHow do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background inspiration for you?

Jim Brodie moves between two locations, Tokyo and San Francisco. Both have culture and character, as well as some of the best things each country has to offer. Each city is elegant and exotic in its own way, so I have no trouble selecting fascinating backdrops to set scenes. I look for locations that have character, but the setting must also arise organically as a natural continuation of the story. I should add that Brodie goes many other places in the States and Japan, and to other countries. In each case I apply the same principles.

How does Brodie interact with his surroundings? Is he a native, a blow-in, a reluctant or enthusiastic inhabitant, cynical about it, a booster? And conversely, how does the setting affect Brodie?

Great question. Brodie is unique in that he is a hybrid. He’s American but both an insider and an outsider. Because of his upbringing, he can explain Japan with an insider’s perspective in a way any outsider can understand.

Brodie is able to do this because he spent the first seventeen years of his life in Tokyo. He attended Japanese schools, where he absorbed the language, the culture, and the mindset of the people. Having been born to Caucasian parents living in Tokyo, he can think like the Japanese and also think like the American he is. He’s the perfect conduit.

Has there been any local reaction to your works?

I’m happy to report that the response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic among local interviewers/reviewers, every expat in Japan I’ve heard from via the website, and—equally satisfying—from Japanese readers.

 Have you ever made any goofs in depicting Japan or its time periods? Please share—the more humorous the better.

 I’ve skirted that danger so far, but in a related incident mischievous gremlins of unknown origin did creep into JAPANTOWN somewhere during the final stages. I still don’t know where or how or when, but I suspect an overzealous autocorrect function sprang into action when some function in the file was reset. The spellings of several San Francisco street names were “corrected” long after they were set. I heard from a lot of readers (thank you!), but Simon & Schuster corrected them in subsequent print and digital versions, so all is well. S&S is great about that sort of thing.

 Of the novels you have written partially set in Japan, do you have a barry-lancet-1-thumbfavorite book or scene that focuses on the place? Could you quote a short passage of how location figures in your novels?

 TOKYO KILL has a large number of distinct locations in Japan and elsewhere, and I have a lot of favorite scenes, so it’s difficult to pick one. That said, the thriller does have an important sequence in the port town of Yokohama, where Brodie and Tokyo policewoman Rie Hoshino must jump through a series of hoops before they are taken to a secret rendezvous with a vital contact.

Yokohama is, to take a line from the book, “the black sheep of the Greater Tokyo area. It is something less than Japanese, and something more.” Brodie and Hoshino are led through back alleys, secret passages, and finally end up at the foot of the old Chinese cemetery, eager to meet their contact:

His look had been cryptic from the start.

Danny Chang had led us up the set of decaying stairs to a hilltop crowded with Chinese tombstones.

Behind a brick temple with vermilion doors, I saw the mausoleum, home to the “patient dead.” Years ago, a coffin ship would transport the deceased back to the motherland. The custom ground to a halt when Mao closed China. The caskets of homesick expats piled up.   I wondered if they still waited.  

“This is Uncle Chang,” Danny had said.

The mysterious man we’d come to meet sat on a cemetery bench. He wore a gray knit shirt and a threadbare navy blazer with a rolled Chinese newspaper stuffed into a side pocket. He’d plunged right in with the Black Wind.

Now he asked, “The killers came at night?”

“All except the ferry attack.”

“With chopping weapons?”

“Mostly.”

Uncle Chang closed his eyes and placed his hands on his knees. His breathing slowed. I sent a questioning look at Danny but his gaze was fixed on the family Ti Zang. Their seer.

A minute passed. Then another. Chang opened his eyes, reached for a pack of Guangdong cigarettes on the bench next to his leg, and lit up.

“What you think, Brodie-san?” he asked, exhaling the question with a blast of blue-gray smoke.

“Everyone thinks they’re Triads.”

“What you think?”

From a distance they looked Japanese but didn’t. A bit closer and they looked Chinese but didn’t.  

“I want to believe we’re dealing with Triads because it gives us a clear target, but I’m not convinced. And one of my sources insists it’s not Triads.”

Chang nodded in appreciation. “You found clever source.”

 Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?

 I have a number of favorite works by authors I admire, but I tend to linger over one or two of their best works. I’ve read far and wide—American, British, Russian, French, and more—so my influences are more mosaic-like than singular. I might recall the best part or parts from one novel or another, but no one book or writer dominates.

 If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?

I’m already living in one of the places I want to live—Tokyo. Next up, in no particular order, Paris, Kyoto, Vienna, Rome (for a spell, spring to mid-summer), New York city, and a half a dozen other locations for a year or so.

 What’s next for your protagonist?

The third Jim Brodie book has him dealing with higher powers in Japan, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Only one of them is benign. The other two are dangerous and potentially deadly. All the while, Brodie just wants to get back to the antique shop he runs.

On the personal front, he’s growing closer to a feisty new love interest who first appears in TOKYO KILL. And his precocious, far-too-observant daughter is stirring up trouble of her own.

Barry–thanks much for taking the time to talk with us at Scene of the Crime.

For more on Barry Lancet, visit his home page.

indexGerman has a word for someone who exhibits this sort of behavior: Arschloch.

Mea culpa, I plead guilty to the symptoms of this malaise more than once in my life, but the one instance that sticks out most in memory is in the spring of 1969 on a trip to Berlin.

As in East Germany. Yes, that East Germany: Checkpoint Charlie, spies in trench coats and fedoras, the Wall, building facades pockmarked with artillery damage a quarter century after the end of World War II. After the Abu Ghraib photos and the NSA disclosures, the Cold War seems an almost romantic place. Nothing romantic about it, however, if you were on ground zero at the time.

Berlin was ground zero for the Cold War.

It was not a smart time for me to display my Arschloch side. Continue Reading »

(LEHTIKUVA)

(LEHTIKUVA)

I just learned that author Jim Thompson died in Finland on August 2. It’s a shocker and my thoughts go out to his wife. Jim was a long-time resident of Finland and penned four books in the popular Inspector Vaara series. The fifth, Helsinki Dead, was left unfinished at the time of his very untimely death at the age of 49. According to one Finnish source, James was apparently killed in an accident.

Born in Kentucky, Jim packed a lot into his all too short life. In addition to being a successful author, Jim had variously turned his hand to being a bartender, bouncer, construction worker, photographer, rare coin dealer, soldier and wrestling announcer. He earned a Master’s degree in English Philology from the University of Helsinki and spoke six languages.

I have run posts on Jim and his work a couple of times. As I recall, I was introduced to Jim and his work by Leighton Gage, another writer no longer with us. I find myself reverting to useless euphemisms at times like this; at times like this words don’t seem very useful. For a brief obit/bio, see this piece in the Helsinki Times.

We never met in person, but Jim was just one of those special people it was an honor to have known. He cared so very much about his craft and was savvy about the book business, kind to friends, and not one to suffer fools gladly.

I’ll miss him–I am sure there are a lot of you out there who will too.

img_0005Jason Goodwin is a British historian and author of the popular historical mystery novels featuring the eunuch detective Yashim and set in Istanbul during the early nineteenth century. The world of the Ottoman Empire figures importantly in the series, and Cambridge-educated Goodwin brings that world vividly to life in his novels, having already dealt with it in has narrative history, Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. The Yashim series debut, The Janissary Tree, earned Goodwin an Edgar Award for the Best Novel in 2007.

Second in the series, The Snake Stone, won critical praise from many quarters. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Marilyn Stasio noted: “When you read a historical mystery by Jason Goodwin, you take a magic carpet ride to the most exotic place on earth.” The Washington Post also commended that series addition, observing: “The real pleasure of The Snake Stone lies in its powerful evocation of the cultural melting pot that was nineteenth-century Istanbul. . . . Goodwin’s sharp eye combines with a poetic style to bring the city vividly to life.” Book three in the series, The Bellini Card, prompted laudatory words from Publishers Weekly: “Goodwin skillfully blends deduction, action sequences and period color.” The fourth series installment, An Evil Eye,was published in the spring of 2011, and Publishers Weekly dubbed it “masterful.” Continue Reading »

BreedingThe U.S. release of A Matter of Breeding, the fifth book in my Viennese Mysteries series, is now available. To celebrate its publication, the San Francisco Book Review features me in an extensive interview on the series and on writing historical fiction, as does the Big Thrill.

The novel also continues to garner strong reviews.

Publishers Weekly felt that this “solid fifth whodunit featuring lawyer Karl Werthen and real-life criminologist pioneer Hanns Gross … is one of the series’ best at combining plot and historical background.”

Kirkus Reviews also had praise for the novel, noting: “Turn-of-the-century Austria has its own homegrown Jack the Ripper, a killer with a cruelly creative streak and a disturbingly playful nature…. Jones adds a delicious historic perspective…, all presented with precision and panache.”

Here’s a brief summary of the book:

The fifth installment of the acclaimed Viennese Mystery series, A Matter of Breeding, finds lawyer and private inquiries agent Karl Werthen and his colleague, the criminologist Dr. Hanns Gross, investigating a series of grizzly murder/mutilations of young women in the Austrian province of Styria. The newspapers are touting Jewish blood ritual murders and vampirism, and Werthen and Gross–assisted by the Irish writer Bram Stoker who is in Austria to give a speech–battle against time to discover the real motive for such brutal and seemingly random killings. Meanwhile, Werthen’s wife, Berthe, has her own case to deal with. Commissioned by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, she is investigating a potential breeding scandal at the famous Lipizzaner stud. If the stud line has indeed been corrupted, this can prove to be more than a mere embarrassment for the Habsburgs, for the Lipizzaner blood line has been introduced to most of the royal stables of Europe. As these dual investigations proceed, it eventually becomes apparent that there is a connection between the two. In the end, it all comes down to a matter of breeding.

You can actually buy it now at Amazon or  at your favorite bookshop.

DeniseMinaTHUMBThey call it Tartan Noir, the Scots form of noir crime writing. And Glasgow crime writer Denise Mina is one of its major practitioners. Mina is the author of a number of critically acclaimed novels: the three installments of the “Garnethill” trilogy featuring Maureen O’Donnell as an unwilling sleuth; three novels featuring Paddy Meehan, a journalist in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow; the stand-alone crime novel, Sanctum; the 2010 graphic novel, A Sickness in the Family; and contributions to the John Constantine, Hellblazer series.

Increasingly, however, Mina has become identified with her series of novels featuring Glasgow DI Alex Morrow: Still Midnight, The End of the Wasp Season, Gods and Beasts, and The Red Road. Writing in the New York Times Book Review of the last-named novel, released in the U.S. in 2014, Marilyn Stasio noted: “If anyone can make you root for the murderer, it’s Denise Mina, whose defiantly unsentimental novels are less concerned with personal guilt than with the social evils that create criminals and the predators who nurture them. . . [The Red Road is] as fierce a story as any Mina has written.” Publishers Weekly also had high praise for this installment, calling it “perhaps her finest yet, a brilliantly crafted tale of corruption, ruined lives, and the far-reaching ripple effects of crime.” n413367

Mina hit the ground running, winning the John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel in 1998 for Garnethill, the first of a trilogy of the same name. She was dubbed the “Crown Princess of Crime” by author Val McDermid, who went on to note, “”If you don’t love Denise Mina, you don’t love crime fiction.”  Mina has also earned praise from fellow Scots writer Ian Rankin, who called her “one of the most exciting writers to have emerged in Britain for years.” She has since been a finalist for the Edgar and the recipient of the 2012 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award (for The End of the Wasp Season), beating out such formidable competition as John Connolly. Continue Reading »

a matter 3A Matter of Breeding, book five in the Viennese Mysteries, has just been published in England (due out in the U.S. in July) and has already been earning critical praise. British bookseller and blogger Jo Graham commented: “This is a rich and luscious historical read, within a well crafted plot, there are plenty of historical facts and famous faces to be found, fans of Conan Doyle will love this.” U.S. critic David Marshall, writing on the Thinking about Books Web site, remarked: “Altogether, A Matter of Breeding is a thoughtful … entertaining mystery.”

Read this fellow to get the real feel for the book and the series.

A quick précis :

1901. Karl Werthen and his colleague, renowned criminologist Dr Hanns Gross, are investigating a bizarre series of murders in the small Austrian town of Graz, aided, or impeded, by Irish author Bram Stoker, who as Marshall noted, is “some author fellow who’s visiting to promote his books. It seems vampires are at large and an expert’s help is called for. ” Meanwhile, back in Vienna, Karl’s wife Berthe is looking into what seems to be a fraudulent breeding scheme involving the prized Lipizzaner horses. Could the two investigations be connected?

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